5 June 2022: Staff shortages; Ugly dogs again; Pv eating habits; Imbecilic responses; Changing word meanings; A reading opportunity; & Other stuff

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España or Galiza

As a rule, I’m very impressed by Spain’s waiters and waitresses. They work hard for low pay and are nearly always courteous. Most of them seem to come from ex-colonies in South America, making residence and Spanish nationality easier than it would be for others, I guess. But I read yesterday that, as the summer economy picks up, there’s a shortage of staff. This despite a national unemployment rate – assuming accuracy – of c.14%. As yet, I have no idea why. Perhaps South Americans stopped coming here during the Covid era. Anyway, Spain is tackling the problem by granting more work visas than ever.

I’ve written about the ugly little dogs that proliferate in Pontevedra city. Yesterday I was interested to read that the fashion for French bulldogs owes a lot to the dog, Stella, in Modern Family. I used to enjoy that program, despite the attention given to that brat.

Galicia, it’s reported, has 340,500 empty dwellings, in varying degrees of density around the region. As you’d expect, not so many in the major cities.

Despite this region’s fame for its seafood, the biggest earning restaurants in Pontevedra are 2 hamburger places – La Pepita and Macdonalds. It turns out I’ve walked past La Pepita in Pontevedra many times but had to check its location with G-Maps just now. The other place is on the northern outskirts of the city, though we have a BoorgerrKeeng in the centre.

Our car-hating mayor continues to polish his global credentials around urban modelling, with plans this year to visit Belfast, Helsinborg(in Sweden), Strasbourg and Lisbon.

The UK  

Britain, too, is suffering from a shortage of waiting staff. One reason there, of course, is the departure of EU citizens after Brexit. In my limited experience, most restaurants and hotel staff seemed to come from Romania. Though I was served by a Japanese lady in a Thai restaurant in Knutsford a couple of years ag

The Guardian writer John Crace was less than impressed by BJ’s attempt at remorse for Partygate. But, then. I wonder if anyone in the country was impressed by it. Or believed it.

The Way of the World

Rod Liddle: More syntactic imbecilities . . . My wife was asked for her full name and the first line of her address by some customer service Gradgrind and when she obliged was rewarded with “Thank you! That’s amazing!” Well, that’s my wife for you — able to stun the world with incredible feats of memory. When asked similar questions I’ve had the response “Brilliant” quite often, and even a “Fantastic” or two — but “Amazing” takes it to a whole new level of facile effusion.

Reader response 1: My order for coffee yesterday was ‘Awesome’. The coffee itself, not so much. [No prize for guessing where this comes from]

Reader response 1: When I ask a question in a shop and the person behind the counter tells me that they will ‘double-check.’  Not that they checked the first time around.

Social Media

Sheryl Sandberg knew the damage Facebook was causing — and did nothing. See the hard-hitting article below.

Quote of the Day

On Hollywood: It is surely ironic that in one of the most self-obsessed, therapeutically-bolstered communities on earth so many women are manipulative narcissists and so many men behave like thugs and gangsters.  Guess what stimulated that.

English

Reader David has kindly sent me this fascinating article on words that don’t mean what they used to. I’d just add that ‘nice’ has also has a legal-ish meaning, as in ‘That’s a nice point’ ie Especially of a difference, slight or subtle. But I guess this might be covered by “insubstantial,” and “dainty”

Finally . . .

A follow-up to the negatives of living in Spain – I’ve compiled – from Newsletters to my family –  a memoir of my first 15 months in Galicia – entitled So, You Want to Move to Spain. It’s currently in Word format but if there’s more than one reader who expresses interest in seeing it (by writing to me at this address – drossbin@gmail.com), I’ll do what I’ve been putting off for months and convert it into an e-book and send it. Based on the reactions of (ex)friends, I won’t be holding my breath. Perhaps my great grandchildren and their offspring will enjoy it more. Or at least show more interest in it. I’ve given up on the fruit of my own loins.

For passing readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re walking through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

THE ARTICLE  

Sheryl Sandberg knew the damage Facebook was causing — and did nothing. Zuckerberg’s deputy denied and deflected criticism rather than risk reducing profits: Roger McNamee, author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, The Times

Sheryl Sandberg’s decision to leave her post as chief operating officer of Meta is likely to be the end of an era. She was responsible for Facebook’s transformation from a compelling app with no business model into one of the most profitable public companies ever create. Facebook’s success had huge costs to society, having been implicated in election interference in the UK, the US and other countries; ethnic cleansing in Myanmar; terrorism in New Zealand; the undermining of public health measures during the pandemic; and the insurrection at the US Capitol.

I first encountered Sandberg in 2000, when she was chief of staff to the US secretary of the treasury, Larry Summers. She introduced me to the man who would later become my business partner, Bono. Sandberg impressed me enormously. When she left Washington in 2001 to pursue a career in Silicon Valley, I played a role in connecting her to Google, where she created the ad sales infrastructure that monetised search results. The two of us remained close throughout her tenure at Google.

In 2006, I helped Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, resolve a serious problem, one that included a major disagreement with his board and executive team. For three years afterwards, I advised Zuckerberg on strategic issues, most importantly the hiring of key executives. I was convinced that Sandberg was the perfect person to be Zuckerberg’s second in command. If she could replicate her success at Google, Facebook would finally have a profitable business. In addition, I hoped that Sandberg’s relative maturity and experience in business and politics would lead to better decisions when Facebook was confronted with hard choices. Zuckerberg followed my advice and hired Sandberg in early 2008.

Executives have one duty: to maximise value for shareholders. On that metric, Sandberg was an exceptional executive. Under her leadership, Facebook became one of the most valuable businesses in the world.

At the time Sandberg joined, Facebook had fewer than 100 million users. It never occurred to me then that the company would eventually connect billions of users on its core product, much less that its success might lead to catastrophic harm. One of the reasons I failed to anticipate harm is that the business model that caused the worst problems did not emerge until 2013.

Putting three billion people on one network with no guard rails and safety nets would have been risky under the best of circumstances. A business model that triggers extreme emotions to hold attention all but guarantees massive harm. The strategy and business model were the result of deliberate choices.

The decisions by Zuckerberg and Sandberg not to change course after Brexit, the 2016 US presidential election, Myanmar, Christchurch, and all the rest were also deliberate. I know this because I contacted Zuckerberg and Sandberg before the 2016 presidential election to share my concern that flaws in the culture, business model, and algorithms of Facebook were allowing bad people to undermine democracy and civil rights.

I did not expect immediate action, but hoped to begin a conversation that would lead to constructive change. After the US election, I argued for adopting the strategy Johnson & Johnson employed after someone put poison in a handful of Tylenol bottles in the United States: stop everything; protect consumers; change business policies; co-operate with the government. Zuckerberg and Sandberg politely dismissed my concerns, but the conversation with Facebook executives continued for several months, until I concluded that my voice alone would not be enough to bring about change.

For nearly a decade before 2016, Facebook had been a darling of the press, policy makers and users. The company’s executives had become so accustomed to praise that they dismissed constructive criticism without thought. They maintained a laser focus on Zuckerberg’s objective of connecting all of humanity on a Facebook-controlled network. They designed a business model to extract maximum value from user data and then implemented it with no safeguards to protect users. From the perspective of shareholders, these choices were brilliant. For everyone else, the choices led to escalating damage to democracy, public health and human autonomy.

Each new story – from Myanmar in 2017 to the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 to Christchurch in 2019 to QAnon in 2020 and the insurrection in 2021 – provided Facebook’s top executives with an opportunity to change course, to become heroes in their own story by altering the business model in the public interest. The same equity structure that gives Zuckerberg the ability to overrule shareholders on any issue would have allowed Facebook to limit its profits to protect users and democracy. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen asserted that Zuckerberg and Sandberg prioritised profits over people.

Rather than reduce profitability to protect users, Facebook chose instead to build large teams in communications and government affairs to deny and deflect criticism. Those teams have been effective. They run a playbook of delaying tactics that stretch each story beyond the attention span of journalists and policy makers. Sandberg was the architect of that strategy and of the teams that implemented it. This was a deliberate choice. So was the Facebook decision to hire a consultancy to attack George Soros and undermine critics by publicizing their association with the billionaire Jewish philanthropist. after the billionaire criticised Facebook in a speech at the World Economic Forum in early 2018. Subsequently, the consultancy distributed to the press materials targeting Soros that have been characterised as antisemitic.

Each time something goes wrong at Facebook, Zuckerberg and/or Sandberg issues an apology and a promise to do better. Despite mounting harm, policy makers in the United States have failed to act. When Haugen provided thousands of pages of evidence that Facebook was aware of the damage it was causing, but chose to do nothing, the company faced unprecedented legal and regulatory jeopardy. Facebook responded by changing its name to Meta. Zuckerberg gave a demo of the “metaverse”. Policy makers and journalists took the bait, and just like that, the whistleblower’s evidence was forgotten.

While Facebook and its executives have avoided legal accountability for the harm enabled by their products and business decisions, their reputations have suffered potentially irreversible damage.

Sandberg is an immensely talented executive who may be remembered most for things she chose not to do. She did not protect democracy when she had the chance to do so. She did not protect public health. She did not respect users’ right to self-determination. No amount of philanthropy can offset the harm done by Facebook during Sandberg’s tenure, but helping policy makers reform the tech industry would be an important first step. I hope she will take it.

2 comments

  1. There’s a shortage of wait staff because people have gotten tired of working long hours for little pay. I’ve seen some conversations of people applying for a waiting job, and they were expected to work around twelve hours six days a week for around minimum wage.

    So, many young people keep living with their parents and studying different vocational courses, until they can find a decent job in one of those vocations.

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  2. Ref: So You Want To Move To Spain. Add me to your list of interested please Colin. The link appeared to be broken.

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